IES released what will be a highly influential report, “An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification Final Report.” You can get a copy through this link:https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED504313.pdf
The report is important because it tests the impact of young teachers who complete traditional teacher preparation programs and those who complete alternative certification programs that require a lot fewer hours of training. Sadly, it finds that the “alt-cert” teachers do as well as the traditional certification teachers in terms of children’s learning. That finding represents a serious challenge to Colleges of Education.
As with any study, this one has problems, but it appears to be the most rigorous look at this issue so far and its findings are troubling and won’t be easy to explain away. One minor concern is that the programs considered were so diverse: some traditional certification programs had fewer hours than the alternative programs, though usually, the traditional programs required a lot more. Lumping all programs together no matter how much they required may be misleading, and yet, overall, they found the extensive of the requirements were not correlated to kids’ learning.
Another serious issue, that could not be addressed in this analysis, has to do with whether there might be longer-term differences: I wonder if alternative certification teachers will be less likely to stay more than two or three years (many alt-cert teachers are seeking an experience, not a career). This is an issue of kids’ learning since more experienced teachers typically outperform our beginners. If the traditional certification teachers eventually outperform the alt-cert teachers, then traditional certification eventually should win out. It will take a future study to determine if that is true.
Or, perhaps, the study is revealing what beginning teachers face in the schools. If teaching is so constrained or pressured in various ways, perhaps it becomes impossible for a new teacher to show what he or she knows. Maybe primary teachers learn to teach phonics thoroughly in one preparation program and not the other, but this might not matter if these teachers go to schools that either doesn't teach phonics or that have such comprehensive phonics programs that little knowledge is needed to deliver the program. Either way, it would seem like there were no differences when there were really large ones that just turned out not to matter in a particular context.
I fear the response from college’s of education will be to denounce this study and go blithely on, instead of rolling up their sleeves and trying to get more selective in their recruitments, more research-based in their course content, and more rigorous in their delivery of programs. This study can be considered evidence that we don’t need colleges of education or that teacher preparation can be slimmed down dramatically with no loss. However, another possibility would be to conclude that neither approach to teaching teachers is doing what we want it to, and we need to upgrade dramatically if we want kids to do well. Traditional certification programs are better positioned to make such changes, but they also have a greater commitment to the status quo and to teaching lots of stuff that apparently matters little in teacher effectiveness.
With regard to reading, my question is how well prepared were either group of teachers to teach phonological awareness, oral language, writing, phonics, reading comprehension, vocabulary, or oral reading fluency? Perhaps neither group of teachers is doing well enough by our children. Making teacher preparation programs more rigorous in terms of teaching how to teach essential skills and abilities is the best way to proceed, though I wonder if the Obama administration will give colleges a chance to experiment with such approaches as the president and secretary of education are fans of alternative certification.
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